But the misleading nature of the GOP charge might not dull its effectiveness as a campaign weapon. “Many older people aren't clear what the ACA did or didn't do,” said Robert Blendon, a Harvard University expert on public attitudes about healthcare. “They just want to be sure you don't change their program. It will matter to them if they think one party or the other is going to do something negative to Medicare or Social Security.”
In their Medicare attacks, Democrats also focus on Ryan's proposal to move future Medicare beneficiaries into private plans under a defined contribution model, potentially exposing seniors to higher out-of-pocket costs. But in the crude parlance of campaign ads, the subtleties of Ryan's proposal are lost.
Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), facing off against Republican candidate Martha McSally whom he beat by less than 700 votes two years ago, claims in an ad that McSally would “cut Medicare to cut taxes for millionaires.”
That's based on McSally's support for Ryan's House budget blueprint, which would cut taxes for higher-income Americans. The National Republican Congressional Committee has countered with an ad accusing Barber of selling out seniors. The evidence: $716 billion in Medicare cuts under Obamacare.
Last month, Democrats held a rally on Capitol Hill to raise alarms about the GOP agenda on Medicare and Social Security. Dozens of seniors affiliated with labor unions waved signs that read: “Tell the Tea Party: Hands Off My Medicare”—mirroring signs from Tea Party rallies against the Affordable Care Act in 2009. A parade of Democratic legislative leaders, union officials and House members facing tough re-election campaigns took turns speaking.
Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), whose re-election contest is deemed a “toss-up” by the Cook Political Report, told the crowd: “They want to turn Medicare back over to the insurance companies. We cannot let them do that.” He was followed by Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), another incumbent in a tight race. “I will never vote to cut Medicare, period,” Garcia said.
Arthur Sanders, a political science professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, said the stock Medicare attacks block legitimate debate about how to secure the future of Medicare. “The demographics tell us that we're going to have to do something,” he said. “Things would work better if we could actually discuss it in an adult-like way in a campaign.”
Follow Paul Demko on Twitter: @MHPDemko